Paul Muldoon has the rock look going on.
James Tate was chosen for only one poem in Dove’s anthology, the elegy for his father from the 1967 volume that won the Yale Younger Poets Prize—when Tate was still a graduate student at the Iowa Writers Workshop.  Since Tate cracks jokes so much in his poetry since, it seems a bit unusual to include this single, early poem.
Perhaps the Canon Committee feels slightly embarrassed when it turns its lynx eye on Tate’s poems, whose humor is often bitter and nonsensical.  The stoned wit of the cartoon-watcher has a tendency to wear off in the bright light of posterity.
So perhaps “The Lost Pilot” is the representative Tate poem, since losing your father when you are a baby is bitter and nonsensical:
The Lost Pilot
for my father 1922-1944
Your face did not rot
like the others—the co-pilot,
for example, I saw him
yesterday. His face is corn-
mush: his wife and daughter,
the poor ignorant people, stare
as if he will compose soon.
He was more wronged than Job.
But your face did not rot
like the others—it grew dark,
and hard like ebony;
the features progressed in their
distinction. If I could cajole
you to come back for an evening,
down from your compulsive
orbiting, I would touch you,
read your face as Dallas,
your hoodlum gunner, now,
with the blistered eyes, reads
his braille editions. I would
touch your face as a disinterested
scholar touches an original page.
However frightening, I would
discover you, and I would not
turn you in; I would not make
you face your wife, or Dallas,
or the co-pilot, Jim. You
could return to your crazy
orbiting, and I would not try
to fully understand what
it means to you. All I know
is this: when I see you,
as I have seen you at least
once every year of my life,
spin across the wilds of the sky
like a tiny, African god,
I feel dead. I feel as if I were
the residue of a stranger’s life,
that I should pursue you.
My head cocked toward the sky,
I cannot get off the ground,
and, you, passing over again,
fast, perfect, and unwilling
to tell me that you are doing
well, or that it was mistake
that placed you in that world,
and me in this; or that misfortune
placed these worlds in us.
Muldoon, a Brit and poetry editor at The New Yorker, is known as a goofy wit, too, and Dove has included three modest poems of his.  The first is “Meeting the British,” and like most Muldoon poems, there seems to be no point to it.   Muldoon is like a flamboyant onion that peels away to nothing, and that’s how he likes it.
Meeting the British
We met the British in the dead of winter.
The sky was lavender
and the snow, lavender-blue.
I could hear, far below,
the sound of two streams coming together
(both were frozen over)
and, no less strange,
myself calling out in Frenchacross that forest-
clearing. Neither General Jeffrey Amherstnor Colonel Henry Bouquet
could stomach our willow-tobacco.
As for the unusual
scent when the Colonel shook out his hand-
kerchief: C’est la lavande,
une fleur mauve comme le ciel.
They gave us six fishhooks
and two blankets embroidered with smallpox.
The story of Jeffrey Amherst and Henry Boulet, high-ranking British officers during the French and Indian War who introduced infected blankets to Indian allies of the French is an instructive one, but why Muldoon wants to hide this British horror story in a little poem about lavender is anyone’s guess.
Tate 71 Muldoon 51


  1. Fauna said,

    March 24, 2012 at 1:17 am

    First poem in your games to make me cry.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 24, 2012 at 11:54 am

      You’ve heard of the Laugh-O-Meter?

      We use the Cry-O-Meter. Hasn’t been used since Tennyson…

  2. Des said,

    March 26, 2012 at 3:29 am

    Muldoon is not a Brit, he’s primarily an Irish poet. There’s a difference. On balance the average Brit poet seems a lot less naturally gifted than their closer Celtic counterparts across the Irish sea. Muldoon is a Brit In the same way you are a Yank. He doesn’t identify himself as British, but as an Irish poet.

    His poetry must detain a reader’s fullest interest for them to hear its truest notes. One must pay fine and intricate attention to all the various detailed elements narrating in his poems. The Day We Met The British is a title that carries a subtle and, to many American readers, unread charge other eyes ingest immediately, but they fail to and prove it by referring to the poem’s author as a brit poet.

    As I’ve already stated, the sockpuppet pac of judge/s on your Scarriet March Madness Committee are unqualified and unable to correctly judge at least half the time. So far the Poetry Investigation Commitee we set up to investigate the March Madness Committe, are recommending you instantly dissolve this pretence of having anything to offer the expert Judges settling cases that are decided at a session in the Supreme Court of American Poetry, who agree with you on two and disagree on two. This is the third, and the odds just tipped away from your judges picking any winner in this Scarey@ forum.

    Supreme Court of American Poetry 3 – Scarriet Sockpuppet Superpac 2

    • Mallie Urn said,

      March 26, 2012 at 4:01 am

      No, the March Madness Committee was dead-on on this one!

      Plus, I cried.

      Your defense of Muldoon and Bernstein by way of assorted irrelevant snobberies is absolutely inept.

      But these are the defenses that made these poets great!

      • Des said,

        March 26, 2012 at 6:22 am

        Urm, Wallie, the Fraud U Committe Knowledge Official Final Form chair is on fb chatbox revealing the decision on your fate at this forum, and I can see the results scrolling along the headline screen of BU Mallie judge/s oh wow it’s a dead fake’s ghost talking from Tir na Og, the real Tuatha De Danann div in it yeah, F.U.C.K.O.F.F. decided all the results thus far are being suspended pending an investigation into the poetic liquidity of this forum under investigation by Criminal Poetry Global Comman, CPGC seal units are being deployed in the Homeland theatre as we speak, on a mission to terminate without prejudice the pernicious propagandarism and sock-puppetry seeking to sway, persuade, lend weight to a routine ruining the Scareyat experience for a majority of its three readers.

        F.O. plastic Ern, the terribly smug principles of foetry subverted beyond all rhyme or reason.

        F.O. Wallie, fow now go on, your act here’s over. You lost. Remember?

        • Mallie Urn said,

          March 26, 2012 at 7:10 am

          Desmond, if you think a ticker on fb is deciding the fate of poets then there’s nothing left to say.

          Bye-bye now. Come back after you’ve taken your pills.

        • Mallie Urn said,

          March 26, 2012 at 1:09 pm

          I just won again, asshole. I know who you are. Don’t fucking fuck with me, psychopath.

  3. Des said,

    March 26, 2012 at 4:47 am

    You didn’t read the obvious (to an Irish audience) and misread the entire poem as a result. Like a man obssessed with the World Series rankings and translating it into this game you’re having with yousrelf. In other poems you or one of the sockpuppets dwelled on who the ‘you’ was in one of the poems in this competition (I forget which one) and this suggests you are expanding into the anruth zone. Investigating Language at its most worked-out you created a conceit with which to investigate reality with the poems chosen by the Committee of You, in this March Madness shtick. ‘Why Muldoon wants to hide this British horror story in a little poem about lavender is anyone’s guess’, you wrote. You assumed to know better than the poem itself. Its clues elude your judges and, unable to cognize them, apprehend and be aware of what’s going on in the poem, they fail to join up the clues, because you are insufficiently qualified to know the truth of this poem.

    You should send a few of them out to Muldoon’s poetry library and very politely introduce themselves, and immediately praise his poems, having one or two memorized as backup should any prolonged bouts of flattery develop between your advisors, colleagues, experts and poetry judges & Muldoon.

    I have to admit to having an otherworldly experienced the first time I heard Muldoon in the flesh. I had ticked off a list of poetry titans in Dublin, where they all agree is a beacon of poetry, and Muldoon turned up one of the final pieces in a jigsaw-of-self education, exercise, lengthy, drawn out and ongoing poetic process.

    I’d heard a recording of him reading a short poem about a cable hole in plasterboard and thinking, hmm, is Muldoon the biggest poet-fraud in publishing? There wasn’t enough evidence to make a judgement on the capabilities of this artist, and what stopped me from launching in and deciding he was, is because of what I later discovered in person is a quality I don’t possess. The experiential capacity of knowing less than Muldoon does, a grade or two above mine, and therefore not recognizing the grade, must scratch one’s head wondering ‘why Muldoon wants to hide this British horror story in a little poem about lavender is anyone’s guess’.

    Muldoon was reading as part of a very large poetry event in which many others read, from the pulpit of the Unitarian Church at Stephens Green in Dublin, a classic long poem from the late eighties, Immram, and his translations of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s then latest Irish language collection of mermaid poems.

    The place was jammed, easily two hundred people around the church. I sat at the very back and went into audience mode, yet aware of the many other colleagiate bores, competitiors and contestants were there playing silly social networking games of pretend, in which anything goes. Where a pecking order is most on show. Lots of types you won’t see an average Tuesday evening at the launches of the many lesser known and unread on the Dublin poetry scene.

    I was sitting straight and waiting for the show to begin. There was a great frenzy, vibe and poetic buzz in the air. I was overcome. Straight away I am pretending in a silly social networking game, marking out the poets of the Dublin scene in relation to oneself at the unitarian church of poetry, where all styles are equal and no rules apply except trying to make your poem authentically heard.

    We are the first reader/s of our poems, whatever they are, and so it’s unfair to mark Muldoon down because you choose not to discover what the ollamh does over many years study. Your judge’s writing exhibiting only unconscious flashes of anruth at best, it’s clear you have little to no idea about how the knowledge this Princeton prof is in possession of, was acquired, and how he writes as he does, poetically.

    I don’t know if its The Supreme Court of American Poetry 4 – Scareyat Bankrupt 2, or not. I won’t compound any sense of humiliation you are experiencing, so give you the benefit of our doubt. The Poetic Bankruptcy at Scarriet Investigation Committee have privately communicated their decision with the chairperson of the committe for the preservation of blab blab blab, and inform one of our number Scareyat’s decision has been overturned. That Muldoon won it.

    You’re Fired.

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